Where Have The Theater Ushers Gone?

If you want to see how rude and inconsiderate people are capable of being, chances are going to the movies is a sure-fire way to find out. Bad behavior is something that is practically expected when you attend a multiplex frequented by the mall crowd, texting and talking during the movie are the norm. Recently though, I’ve even seen this kind of behavior at the theaters that cater to the art-house crowd.

When I went to see Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life at the Ridgeway Four here in Memphis, there was an insufferable hipster couple sitting behind me that chatted in a loud whisper during the duration of the movie; sadly, my harsh glances were unable to silence them. Once the end credits began to roll, one of them sarcastically quipped, “Well, that’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back.” This prompted me to angrily whisper “Then leave!” I have no idea if they heard me or not.

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I expect (but do not excuse) this kind of behavior from teenagers watching the latest Michael Bay bonanza. However, when I’m going to see something decidedly outside the mainstream like this, I expect to be in a theater with like-minded folks who are there to see the movie, not to socialize during it. I also expect to be in a theater with people who are more interested in the movie than their cell phones, which create a lovely light-show distraction for everyone unfortunate enough to be sitting behind them.

A couple of days later I was talking with my buddy Andy, who hosts the fantastic Hollywood Saloon podcast, and I brought my Tree of Life-related incident up. Movie fans love to bitch about their bad experiences in the theater, it always leads to a good bit of catharsis. But Andy said something that gave me pause. He said: “Do you remember movie ushers? What happened to them?”

Does anyone remember a time when someone was acting a fool in the theater, and a dude with a flashlight would come up and straightens their ass out? When I say “acting a fool,” I mean anything from excessive talking to simply putting your feet on the chair in front of you. You don’t really see that anymore. This begs the question as to why movie houses have felt the need to do away with ushers. The most likely answer is to save money, theaters can hardly be bothered to keep projectionists on staff anymore. Do they feel that their humorous PSAs that discourage talking and cell phone use beforehand do the job for them? Because anyone considerate enough not to use their phone during the film has already turned it off, the rest simply don’t care whether or not a panda voiced by Jack Black insists they turn their phones off. The Alamo Drafthouse is a theater chain that has the right idea, not only do they eject rowdy moviegoers, but they sometimes make an example of them as well.

Given how much we pay to see movies these days, especially when they’re in 3D, the presence of an usher in the theater should be a courtesy. The usher should be there to ensure that paying customers can enjoy the film without having to worry about rowdy jerks spoiling it for everyone else. Theaters may be concerned that this will drive off business, but so do the idiots they let run riot in their theaters. If the texters and the talkers do leave, good riddance, who needs ’em? Those willing to play by the rules should be rewarded, not punished. Theaters are constantly worrying about how to keep their attendance levels up and extending the customers this courtesy would be a big step in the right direction.

Make sure to watch Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s magnificent “Moviegoers Code of Conduct” (above). As far as I’m concerned, these are the official rules of going to the theater, if you can’t abide by them, just wait for the DVD and watch the damn thing at home, because no one likes you.

This article originally appeared over at Hunter’s Movie Man Cave

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